Folk Music Archives Conference

by Pat MacPherson, CDSS Director of Education

pat macpherson head shotOn May 7th and 8th, 2015, I attended a Folk Music Archives Conference, organized by Jay Hartman-Berrier, Director of the Indian Neck Folk Festival from 1967-the present. The conference addressed a pressing need: at Indian Neck, and many other folk festivals, someone would tape a concert, sometimes identifying notes were taken, and those tapes ended up in someone’s attic or basement. After many years, tapes became cassettes, became CDs, and there were too many of them. Where should they be kept? How should they be preserved? Is anyone interested in listening to them anymore?

After introductions of the approximately 35 participants, including CDSS Board member Lorraine Hammond, we learned from keynote speaker, Nicole Saylor (Head of the Archive, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress), what services and resources the LofC offers, and how they administer and control their archives. Bob Walser, who works on the National Folklore Archives Initiative, used his work on the James Madison Carpenter Collection of sea shanties as a case study of cataloging and archiving a massive song collection for public and academic use. After dinner, there were two panels: the first on archiving issue for organizations, with me representing CDSS’s library and archives at UNH Durham, Geoff Kaufman (Mystic Seaport) and George Ward (Caffè Lena); and the second, case studies of sound preservation projects, including Gene Bowlen who is working with the Field Recorders Collective, who are archiving old-time music, and Ben Riesman, who is working with Howard Glasser archives.

The second day of the conference, our keynote speaker was Peter Irvine, lawyer and musician, who opened our eyes to the realities of copyright in theory and practice. Nicole Saylor talked about good archival practices for small organizations, and our last panel was a discussion of technical issues with archiving.

This amazing conference will be repeated next year. Our take-aways: go home and make an inventory of everything in those boxes! Reach out to someone else who you think might also be harboring a hidden collection, and pass on the information we learned. Finally, Bob Walser volunteered to create a prototype database which even the computer averse can use, to start creating digital databases of what exists now, and we hope will safely exist into the future.

If you are interested in contacting any of the people at the conference, write to

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